At least 42 people have died in Germany and dozens were missing on Thursday as record rainfall in western Europe caused rivers to burst their banks, swept away homes and flooded cellars.
Reuters reported eighteen people died and dozens were missing around the wine-growing region of Ahrweiler, in Rhineland-Palatinate state, police said, after the Ahr river that flows into the Rhine rose and brought down half a dozen houses.
Another 15 people died in the Euskirchen region south of the city of Bonn, authorities said. In Belgium, two men died due to the torrential rain and a 15-year-old girl was missing after being swept away by a swollen river.
Hundreds of soldiers were helping police with the rescue efforts in Germany, using tanks to clear roads of landslides and fallen trees, while helicopters winched those stranded on rooftops to safety.
In Ahrweiler, two wrecked cars leant steeply against either side of the town’s stone gate and locals used snow shovels and brooms to sweep mud from their homes and shops after the floodwaters receded.
“I was totally surprised. I had thought that water would come in here one day, but nothing like this,” local man Michael Ahrend told Reuters TV. “This isn’t a war – it’s simply nature hitting out. Finally, we should start paying attention to it.”
The floods have caused Germany’s worst mass loss of life in years. Flooding in 2002 killed 21 people in eastern Germany and more than 100 across the wider central European region.
Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her dismay.